The real reason why young leaders are dumping the Congress

·Columnist
·4-min read
Jyotiraditya Scindia (right) and Jitin Prasada at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi in 2008. Photo: Virendra Singh Gosain/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Jyotiraditya Scindia (right) and Jitin Prasada at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi in 2008. Photo: Virendra Singh Gosain/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Another young Congress leader, Jitin Prasada, has left the party and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party. He joins a string of leaders of the grand old party who have exited due to disillusionment and apathy of the High Command — such as Himanta Biswa Sarma, Ashok Tanwar, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Priyanka Chaturvedi, Pradyot Deb Barman, to name just a few.

Meanwhile, a crisis is brewing for the Congress in Rajasthan and Punjab. Many other leaders, including Sachin Pilot, RPN Singh, Navjot Singh Sidhu and Milind Deora, are reportedly sulking and could move out if their demands are not met.

The Congress is in a damage control mode and has sent feelers to Pilot requesting him to be patient.

Why are young leaders leaving the Congress party?

The party’s old guard has not yet retired from politics and is still holding onto its positions. This means there are very few positions available for the youth. The party hasn’t formed a margdarshak mandal yet, nor does it have a retirement age, like the BJP has where 75 is the retirement age.

The position is exacerbated due to the fact that the party is not in power at the Centre nor in any big state, except Rajasthan. In Maharashtra, it is a junior partner.

The Gandhi family’s refusal to share power at the organisational level has peeved many leaders. Sonia has been the Congress interim president for almost 2 years now, while Rahul is the de facto leader of the party despite resigning from top post after scathing loss in 2019 general elections.

Priyanka who hasn’t contested any election till date is one of the general secretaries.

It is often said that an organisation's culture flows from the top. The high command has made Congress its family jaagir (property). It’s indulgence in dynasty politics encourages other leaders to follow the same. That’s why you see so many leaders in Congress today are 2nd / 3rd generation.

Rahul was Congress vice president before being anointed as president. After his exit, this position is vacant. The BJP, on the other hand, has 13 vice presidents. It is debatable whether they yield any power or not, but the fact is that so many people have been accommodated. A leader also needs to show to his / her followers that the party appreciates and recognises his / her efforts.

Many young leaders can be accommodated in the Congress organisation through this simple mechanism. National vice president of the Congress party, which is still the number two national party of the country, is no mean position. 

What stops the Gandhis from making these appointments? The one word answer is insecurity.

Young ambitious leaders need to be rehabilitated, given importance and recognition and kept engaged in activities which would benefit the party. The party needs to be run like a corporate with a reward system based on performance.

Jyotiraditya Scindia could have stayed in the party if he was made the Pradesh Congress Committee president in Madhya Pradesh. But Kamal Nath was occupying both the chief minister’s and the PCC president’s posts. Jitin Prasada may not have left if he was projected as the chief ministerial face in Uttar Pradesh and if the Priyanka Gandhi camp had not sidelined him in his home state.

Many analysts have pointed out that since Congress has been out of power for seven years and can’t offer lucrative positions to its ambitious leaders, people like Jitin Prasada are leaving the party.

But they miss the point that the BJP was also out of power for 10 years during 2004-14, how many of its leaders left the party? Did it face a crisis like this? The answer is a vehement ‘no’.

While the Congress has faced many splits, the BJP has seen very few.

The key difference between the two parties lies in how their organisations are structured. The BJP has a bottom-up organisation structure, while the Congress follows a top-down model. That’s why you see many top leaders today have risen up the ranks in the BJP.

The BJP is a cadre-based party, members of which are emotionally bound to its ideology. The Rashtriya Swayam Sevak network provides it with logistics as well as human resource support. It is a much more disciplined party.

The Congress, in the initial years, benefitted from being credited with winning India independence from the British. The common man as well as intelligentsia were its members. However, over the years under the rule of Indira, Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi, it became a party of chieftains.

These landlords / influential satraps started managing the cadre in their respective regions while the top leadership got cut off from the grassroots worker. The fact that the Congress doesn’t have an ideology that binds its organisation together has made matters worse.

Unless the party leadership takes drastic steps, accommodates young leaders in the organisation and is willing to loosen their own grip over the party, the exodus of leaders will continue.

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